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Mortlock by Jon Mayhew

The Blurb On The Back:

Every now and then, a gentle scratching made Josie flinch and pull the bedclothes closer around her.

‘I can come in whenever I want to,’ the noise seemed to gloat. ‘You may think you’re safe, but I can come in. Whenever I want.


Josie is a knife thrower in a magician’s stage act.

Alfie is an undertaker’s assistant.

They are both orphans and they have never met, but they are about to be given a clue to the secret of their shared past.

A past which has come to seek them out.

And while they flee for their lives, they must unravel the burning mysteries surrounding the legacy that threatens to consume them.

Morsel by morsel.




It’s 1854 and Josie (an orphan) is a knife thrower who performs a stage act with her guardian, a magician called the Great Cardamom. Josie’s life changes forever the day three black-clad women calling themselves Aunt Veronica, Aunt Mag and Aunt Jay force their way into Cardamom’s house seeking the Amarant, a mysterious object that they claim Cardamom stole. Ruthless and brutal, the woman will stop at nothing in their search and Josie realises that the only way to stop them is to find the Amarant for herself.

Her search brings her to Alfie, an undertaker’s assistant and another orphan who can bring the dead back to life but only for a moment. Although they dislike each other on sight, they share a common past and with the Aunts closing in on them must learn to work together in order to unravel the mystery of the Amarant before darker forces use it for evil ends ...

Jon Mayhew’s debut novel is a dark historical fantasy that takes John Milton’s PARADISE LOST as a starting point and interweaving the lyrics of classic English folk songs to excellent effect. Josie is a resourceful heroine, used to taking care of herself and while she’s driven by her love for her guardian, she is not blind to his faults. Alfie is a likeable hero, excited by his strange ability and keen to use it to prankish effect. The stars of the book though are the ghoulish Aunts, with their casual cruelty and strange other-worldly natures. The story really leaps to life when they are on the page and they are wonderful villains.

Friendship forms the emotional core of the novel – starting with the friendship of the three men who make a strange discovery while adventuring in Abyssinia and moving on to the developing friendship between Josie and Alfie.

There are some dark scenes in the book – a visit to a circus hidden deep within a forest takes a macabre turn as is the titular Mortlock, about whom the story turns – and the story features zombies, ghouls and also some character death. As such, it might be a little too much for younger readers. However anyone aged 10+ should love this story about characters overcoming hideous adversity to unveil ancient secrets.

The Verdict:

A dark, thrilling historical fantasy this story has a likeable and resourceful hero and heroine, plenty of magic and some great set-pieces. It is a dark story and the Aunts (while my favourite characters) may be a little too dark for younger readers although I thought that it was a great read and a lot of fun.

I am giving away a signed copy of MORTLOCK on my LJ here for anyone who is interested in checking it out.

Cross-posted to fantasywithbite, kiddie_lit and middlebooks.
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